When you come to supervision there is an underlying assumption that if you are to do quality work, you will need to feel safe to do so. Typically, you will have had a contracting discussion which, amongst other things, will have underlined that the relationship is a confidential one. And yet, from time to time our brain wheels in our “internal editor” before our mouths open.
I have noticed that my internal editor has a couple of ways of working. The first is when they decide that what I’m about to say needs a bit of a dress rehearsal before it is actually voiced. This seems to happen when I’m having a new thought and I’m not yet sure what I am thinking myself – a common introvert tendency. The second is where I’ve fast forwarded past my contribution and I start imagining what those present will make of what I’ve just said. This seems to happen when I am navigating sensitive territory and I’m afraid that I will be misunderstood or cause offence in some way.
The other quality that helps make for good supervision dialogue is the ability to be present in the moment and to give good attention to others. Of course the irony is, that as soon as our internal editor kicks in, we are no longer being present or attentive. We are distracted by the editorial questions and the draft scripts being reworked in our heads. Sound familiar?
As a supervisor working with groups, I can sometimes sense when someone’s internal editor is at work – the hesitation, the slant of a head, the bite of a lip … and I suspect there are many, many more times when my supervisees are masking their internal editor all too well!
So what can we do to quieten our internal editor? It is a bit of a conundrum. Here’s my thinking….
Carl Rogers has been quoted for saying something like “I’ve never yet met a client I didn’t like”. I remember when I first heard that thinking … “Really?! – well I’ve certainly met a few!!”. However, over time I’ve come to have an understanding of what he might have meant by that. Because, I have discovered that if I can find a way of helping a client open up and be just a little bit vulnerable, we start to do some great work together. Through that vulnerability we develop a genuine connection, a genuine fondness of each other….and perhaps more interestingly, this can happen even with those people whose humour, behaviours or values have jarred with mine when we first met. We have now connected at a different level.
So what might that mean for supervision? My point is, that it is the vulnerability that helps coach and client connect and, to make the link, it is the willingness to be a bit vulnerable which allows great supervision work to be done. I believe it is my role as supervisor to create the safest environment in which I can. You are invited to take a risk, to be vulnerable for a moment or two. Like the hermit crab outgrowing it’s shell, you will need to be exposed to move forward and find a bigger shell for the next stage of your journey. It is both dangerous and essential that you do so. You will need to trust me and trust yourself that now is the time to make a move. The trouble is, I can’t make you take the risk. As a supervisor I can help create the right conditions, but only you can decide when you are ready. And in this moment, fear often pops in and the internal editor is enlisted to help you stay safe.
Yet, in the context of supervision, what is the worst that can happen? Fearful of feeling stupid? Good! We all feel stupid sometimes. Fearful of finding out something about yourself which you don’t like? Good, good! Don’t we all have parts of us that we wish were different? Perhaps you are fearful of being judged? Good, good, good! We are probably being judged and judging others much of the time. Are these fears really a problem if you are being supported to explore what it’s like to be in that fear and then learn something from it?
We talk about the importance of building trust – yet how will that trust get built if we never test to see how much exists….My encouragement is that if you can take a risk, come out of your shell and be vulnerable with me and your fellow supervisees, something magical will happen. Your bravery will be rewarded, we will connect as the delightfully messy humans that each of us are. Unique in ourselves, yet common in our desire to be “OK”.
What’s more, there is a bonus prize to be won. When we know how to do this for ourselves, we are in a much stronger place to help our clients do it for their selves too. And then what? Well, we get to do the best coaching work we can possibly do.
So next time in supervision, when you feel your internal editor getting ready to work, why not give them a day off – take a risk, be brave and prepare to initiate the trust you need.
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